They say if you tie an elephant by its foot with a chain, it gets used to being a captive. Eventually, even if you replace the chain with a string or a thread, it won’t run away; it will just stay in its place. Why? Because you have succeeded in conditioning it to captivity.
During the “Simbang Gabi,” you would probably remember that I quoted an essay written by Renato Constantino, entitled, “The Miseducation of the Filipino.” In that essay, Constantino gives something of an equivalent of conditioning human beings to captivity. He calls it the colonial strategy of “capturing minds” through education. Here’s how he says it, “The most effective means of subjugating a people is to capture their minds.”
Why did it take more than three centuries for our ancestors to be awakened to resist their colonial captivity? Because after such a long time, when people’s minds have been conditioned to submit themselves to their bondage, the resistance goes away. As Constantino says, “The moulding of men’s minds is the best means of conquest. Education, therefore, serves as a weapon in wars of colonial conquest.” Sometimes, by the way, religion is also used with the same purpose.
The objective is to get people to accept captivity as their fate. Soon, they cannot think of any other way or manner of living than by submitting to the will of their masters.
Sometime ago, an evangelical pastor who is also a Bible scholar and a theologian, got me into thinking when he said in his text to me, “Maybe people cannot lament anymore because we have overemphasized the idea that they are sinners and that they deserve their misery.” He had invited me to a webinar forum to react to a paper that he had prepared, entitled, “Pagrereklamo sa Diyos” (The Relevance of the Lament Psalms of the Old Testament to the Church and Society).
He said, “Nawalan na ng bahay iyung tao dahil sa bagyo. Pagpasok niya ng simbahan, paaaminin pa siya na siya ay makasalanan. Paano nga naman siya magrereklamo?” People tend to accommodate their fate too quickly. We call it “resiliency” and regard it as a value. We tend to accept too quickly the things we think we cannot change, and never develop the courage to change the things we can, or even the wisdom to know the difference. (I am of course borrowing those lines from the so-called PRAYER OF SERENITY.)
Maybe, sometimes, circumstances invite us not to go gently into the night but rather “rage, rage against the dying of the light” as Dylan Thomas once expressed it so poetically. Is it possible that we human beings are suffering from a collective low self-esteem about our humanity? Is it possible that we have allowed religion to keep us as captives rather than liberate us?
We have a Filipino song that says, “Sapagkat kami’y mga tao lamang.” As if it were so bad to be human. It is a song that seems to equate our humanity with weakness, fallenness, sinfulness. It can make us think as if we’re nothing but good-for-nothing bums, that we’re such wretched, unlovable creatures who deserve to be punished by God, and who can only live at the mercy of our benevolent master.
This is what we might call a slave mentality. The abuse that the slave suffers can make him just as abusive to his wife, his children and his fellow slaves. He can end up replicating the consciousness of his oppressors. The abusive master’s words keep playing in his mind, “You’re nothing but a worthless piece of scumbag.” Eventually, he behaves like one.
St. Paul, in our second reading today from Gal 4:4-7, is our source of good news for today’s Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God on New Year’s day. Let me paraphrase him a bit; he says, “When the proper time came, God sent His Son, born of a woman, (meaning, born a human being) in order to liberate human beings from their captivity to sin.”
And the message of the Son of God is loud and clear, “Your slavery is over!” Paul therefore tells the Galatians that they should stop behaving like slaves. That they should get rid of their conditioning. He says,
“You are no longer a slave but a son,
and if a son then also an heir, through God.”
I think the colonial masters found this idea dangerous. Like I told you a few weeks ago, I have seen versions of the anti-abolitionist Bible where lines like these have been deleted because they might give their slaves the dangerous ideas of freedom. They had to keep them domesticated like tame animals serving as beasts of burden. How? By using the same religion to propagate precisely the opposite of freedom. By reinforcing in them a kind of pietism that tells them that they are just unworthy sinners who deserve punishment until God decides that they have suffered enough to deserve to be liberated by a benevolent savior.
The Feast of Mary, Mother of God, is the climax of the good news of Christmas. It is intended precisely to restore our faith in our own humanity by announcing to us that God has decided to save humanity by becoming himself human. Luke tells us that when the shepherds saw the sign of the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger, “they made known the message that had been told them about this child.” What is that message? It is summed up by his name: JESUS, YESHUA, Yahweh saves humanity by becoming human.
And so, when St. Paul tells us “As proof that you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…” what he means is that we should stop thinking like slaves; we are God’s children and should start behaving as such. The savior we have been waiting for has come, and he gives us the Spirit so that we can take part in his work of liberation. We have been redeemed in order to participate in his work of redemption. It is what it means to be children of Mary, Mother of the Son of God. From being children of the old Eve who was a slave to sin, we are now to regard ourselves as children of the New Eve. We are born of a free woman, not by the flesh, but by the Spirit.
Yes, sin is still a problem. It is lurking like a lion looking for someone to devour, but we already have the power to resist it. We are no longer its captives. He has succeeded in putting it in chains.
Therefore we should stop waiting for a liberator. Thanks to the Spirit, the liberator is now in you; you are a part of him.
Homily of Bishop Pablo Virgilio David for the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God, Jan. 1, 2021, Lk 2:16-21